What is acute myeloid leukaemia?

Leukaemia (sometimes spelt as leukemia) is a cancer of the white blood cells. People with leukaemia usually have more white blood cells than normal but sometimes may have fewer. These leukaemia cells behave differently from healthy white blood cells.

The four main types of leukaemia are:

Each type of leukaemia has its own characteristics and treatment.

Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)

AML is a rare type of cancer. It can affect people at any age but is more common in people over 60. Around 2,600 people are diagnosed with AML each year in the UK. AML is a cancer of the white blood cells. Normally, blood cells are made in the bone marrow in a controlled way. In people with AML, this process gets out of control and too many abnormal leukaemia cells are made. These immature cells do not develop into normal working blood cells.

In most types of AML, the leukaemia cells are immature white blood cells (blast cells). In less common types of AML, too many immature platelets or immature red blood cells are made. The immature cells fill up the bone marrow, taking up space that’s needed to make mature blood cells. This means the bone marrow is unable to make enough mature cells. Some leukaemia cells get into the blood and circulate around the body in the bloodstream. These immature leukaemia cells don’t work properly. This leads to an increased risk of infection. It can also cause symptoms such as anaemia and bruising because fewer healthy red blood cells and platelets are being made.

Back to Understanding acute myeloid leukaemia

About the blood

To understand leukaemia, it helps to know a bit about the blood.